Study says debt deters poorer students from university

A study has shown that students from lower income families are more likely to be discouraged from going to university due to higher tuition fee debt levels.

Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education surveyed potential university applicants in 2015 and compared their results to another survey taken in 2002, when tuition fees were around £1,100 per year.

The study found that in 2002 students from poorer backgrounds were more likely to be resistant to debt than those from wealthier families. The difference between the two groupsí views has increased during the 13 years between each survey.

Those surveyed from the ësqueezedí middle class are also more concerned about debt, suggesting attitudes to debt across all income groups have changed. In 2015 74 percent of 17 to 21 year olds agreed with the statement ìborrowing money to pay for a university education is a good investmentî, compared to only 52 percent in 2002. However, roughly a third of the participants still strongly agree with the statement “I would worry a lot if I ever got into debt.”

Despite the rise in tuition fees, the study found that university applications across the income spectrum have continued to rise over the 13 year period. However, one of the researchers noted that there are still significant differences in application levels depending on young people’s backgrounds.

Claire Callender, a Professor of Higher Education Studies at UCL said that, “Working-class young people are far more likely than students from other social classes to avoid applying to university because of debt fears.”

This difference is often put down to exam results in schools, where wealthier pupils are more likely to obtain the results needed to get in to university. Prof Callender says that this perspective ìdisguises a more complex pictureî, and does not consider the fact that poorer students with the same exam results are less likely to go to university than their wealthier peers.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said “It is important to remember that it is high-earning graduates who benefit the most from a policy of no fees – under tuition fees they would repay their entire student loans.”

They added: “Removing fees benefits those who go on to earn the most, while having little or no impact on lower earners,” whilst noting that, “those from disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to enter university than ever before.”


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Jack Lejk

July 2021
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